NAICU Washington Update

Student Aid Increases Included in Draft Senate Spending Bill

October 22, 2021

The Senate released details of its FY 2022 appropriations bills this week, including the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, which funds student aid and includes a $400 increase in the Pell Grant maximum award, to $6,895, and increases for all other student aid programs.

Overall, the Senate appropriations bills provide the same amount as President Biden’s total spending request, $1.49 trillion, but the Senate distributes the funding differently than the request, or the House-passed bills. The Senate provides a 5% increase for defense spending ($725.8 billion), to meet the level provided in the National Defense Authorization Act, and a 13% increase for nondefense spending ($764.2 billion). In contrast, the President and the House provided a 2% increase for defense and a 16% increase for nondefense spending.

For the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, Senate appropriators provided $98.4 billion, which is $25 billion more than last year, but $4.4 billion less than the $102.8 billion provided by the House, and the president’s request.

The table below highlights the multiple funding proposals for the key federal student aid programs.


FY 2021




Pell Grant Maximum






$880 million

$880 million

$1.028 billion

$905 million

Federal Work-Study

$1.19 billion

$1.19 billion

$1.43 billion

$1.23 billion


$1.09 billion

$1.29 billion

$1.29 billion

$1.28 billion


$368 million

$408 million

$408 million

$400 million

In addition to the significant increases for the student aid programs, the bill also provides increases for all Strengthening Institutions Programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and other minority-serving institutions; Title VI International Education; and Teacher Quality Partnership programs. Most higher education programs are funded slightly higher in the House bill than the Senate bill, except for the $110 million provided for Child Care Access Means Parents in School and the $50 million to extend the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness program provided in the Senate bill.

The House and Senate bills both reflect the congressional prioritization of federal funding for student aid, especially the Pell Grant program. Having both chambers decide to increase the Pell Grant maximum by $400 is significant, as it costs an additional $2.25 billion each year to reach that level. Having the $400 increase provided through appropriations is a big step toward achieving the goal of doubling Pell and reflects the success of the national grassroots effort so many NAICU members have been participating in.

Report Language

Report language related to appropriations bills often include pilot programs or proposals of particular interest to the subcommittee that don’t fall into a bigger established federal program. There are two of note in the Senate report. One is $14 million to fund competitive grants to institutions to address basic needs insecurity on campus. This pairs with the House report requesting a Basic Needs Grant for $8 million, but with a slightly different program proposal. Another is $15 million to fund new evidence-based activities to improve postsecondary retention and completion rates. This Postsecondary Student Success Grant reflects what has previously been introduced as “College Completion” proposals from the Biden Administration and other legislation, but was reframed by Congress in the “Build Back Better” reconciliation bill under consideration.

Both House and Senate bills include community projects for higher education.

Unlike the House report, the Senate report does not include language allowing DACA students to be eligible for Pell Grants nor does it address reverting back to the 85/15 rule on for-profit accountability.

Next Steps

Under normal circumstances, the Senate appropriations subcommittees would mark up their bills individually, and floor time would be scheduled for a full Senate debate. However, because of the 50-50 split in the Senate, it is difficult to get bills out of committee, as legislation can’t move forward from committee on a tie vote if there is not bipartisan support. To avoid this hurdle, the Senate will go straight to negotiating with its House counterparts, which wrote and passed its version of the bill this summer. They will have to work out the differences between the bills and package them into a year-end omnibus package. The current continuing resolution keeping the government funded expires on December 3, which gives appropriators roughly six weeks to finalize spending decisions for FY 2022, which officially began on October 1.

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